Having returned from a lengthy summer recess, Congress is likely to consider important truck policy issues in September before it breaks again during the month of October.
Specifically, lawmakers will have to resolve a dispute in a transportation appropriations bill that dates back to the omnibus spending legislation enacted at the end of 2015. That legislation included a provision that was designed to suspend a requirement that drivers rest for two consecutive nights from 1 a.m. - 5 a.m. if they want to avail themselves of the 34-hour "restart" provision under the hours-of-service regulation. It called for a study confirming that this provision requiring two consecutive nights of rest before the provision took effect.
In what most consider to be a drafting error, that legislation failed to specify that the industry would continue to operate under the current hours-of-service regime, and has been interpreted as requiring drivers to revert back to an older, more arcane and less manageable regime. If Congress does not "fix" the drafting error, drivers' ability to take a 34-hour rest to restart their hours-of-service clock would go away and the industry would be subject to weekly work limits of 60 hours in seven days and 70 hours in eight days.
The House of Representatives' transportation funding bill includes a provision that would simply block the requirement for two overnight rest periods, while also preempting any state from requiring rest periods that are different from federal rules. (California has such a requirement in place, requiring a 30-minute break for truck drivers after five hours of work.)
The Senate transportation funding bill, by contrast, introduces a new 73-hour cap on driving after seven days, while allowing drivers to perform another 8.5 hours of non-driving work (such as loading and unloading).
The trucking industry opposes the Senate's 73-hour cap and prefers the House bill.
Congress needs to pass appropriations legislation by Sept. 30 to avoid shutting down the federal government. Although the details remain to be seen, Congress is likely to pass a short-term measure funding the government into December, when it will consider a longer-term spending measure during a "lame duck" session. It is unclear whether Congress will include the trucking policy language in the September "short-term" bill, or wait to consider that language in the lame duck session in December.
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